Pools manager speaks of dressing room culture as sex abuse inquiries continue

Hartlepool's manager Craig Hignett.

Hartlepool's manager Craig Hignett.

Hartlepool United’s manager believes there could be thousands of sex abuse victims preyed on through the football system.

Craig Hignett began his playing career at Crewe Alexandra, which is leading its own inquiry into the way it handled historical sex abuse allegations.

I can see why nothing was said and I’ve got every sympathy for them because back then it was different, it was a tough place to be, and you did have to have thick skin to be around it and to cope with it.

Craig Hignett

Now Hignett has spoken of the culture within football during the 1980s.

He said: “Certain rituals happen in football that would never happen anywhere else, but were part of the job of being a footballer.

“The dressing room was run by old pros and the old pros could keep the younger lads, so newer lads just coming into the squad in the dressing room, in check and in all sorts of ways.

“They would do it in all sorts of ways, they would whip you with towels, stuff like that, that went on, it was just what happened.

“The older pros, they would see it as a bit of a laugh, but the younger lads would see it as, I suppose you could call it a bit of bullying, because that what it amounts to really.

“It was bullying really to show you what was expected of you and the way to conduct yourself around older pros.”

Hignett, who also played for Middlesbrough and Leeds United, believes it would have been impossible for victims to speak out 20 years ago.

He said: “I can see why nothing was said and I’ve got every sympathy for them because back then it was different, it was a tough place to be, and you did have to have thick skin to be around it and to cope with it.”

An estimated 148 clubs and 155 potential suspects across the country have been put under the spotlight due to alleged abuse - and Hignett believes the number of victims could rise.

In his interview with Tyne Tees News, he added: “It could run into thousands and not everyone’s going to come forward, but I think in one form or another I would imagine it to be thousands.”

The Football Association has confirmed it is investigating allegations of sexual abuse in football.

An NSPCC hotline has also been set up to help those seeking support and advice.